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Future of sustainable air traffic growth? Bigger planes, says Airbus

By Steven Luo June 15, 2015 No Comments Print Share
Airbus expects global air traffic to double over the next 15 years, with emerging markets such as China and India leading the way. (Steven Luo / CALIFORNIA BEAT)

Airbus expects global air traffic to double over the next 15 years, with emerging markets such as China and India leading the way. (Steven Luo / CALIFORNIA BEAT)

Air travel is expected to double over the next 15 years as the emerging middle class of the developing world takes to the skies.  But the large airports generating most of the demand are already congested, and with pressure to combat global warming growing, calls for limits on aviation emissions will only increase.

The solution?  Bigger planes, according to Airbus sales chief John Leahy.

Airbus, of course, has a vested interest in this position.  The European planemaker’s slow-selling A380 super-jumbo stands to benefit from any movement towards larger aircraft on international long-haul routes, while its 180-240 seat A321 dominates the market for large short-haul aircraft.

John Leahy, chief operating officer -- customers for European manufacturer Airbus, at the 2015 Paris Air Show. (Steven Luo / CALIFORNIA BEAT)

John Leahy, chief operating officer — customers for European manufacturer Airbus, at the 2015 Paris Air Show. (Steven Luo / CALIFORNIA BEAT)

But only through upgauging can these twin demands be met, insists Leahy. Adding more flights can only go so far in meeting additional demand, he says, pointing out that few customers want to fly at odd times such as 3AM. Larger airplanes also tend to consume less fuel per passenger, reducing the amount of carbon emitted per passenger flown.

Will airlines — historically set on operating as many flights as possible even in the face of congestion — be pushed into changing their habits, though? And given that air traffic growth has historically outpaced fuel efficiency gains, resulting in rising carbon emissions despite what Airbus says is a 33% reduction in fuel consumed per passenger over the past 15 years, will it be enough to allow aviation to continue to grow despite efforts to limit global warming?

Only time will tell.

Contact Steven Luo at sluo@californiabeat.org.

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